By Nick DAngelo
President Barack Obama hardly received any accolades for his fifth State of the Union address, a tiresome exercise that provides more cardio for members of Congress than information for a closeted public.
George Will of the Washington Post labeled it “political exhibitionism,” The New York Times called it “diminished,” and the National Review simply admitted it was “not as bad as expected.”
With his poll numbers well below 50 percent (and dropping), President Obama needs a realistic agenda, and while many were disappointed that his aggressive style has been recalled, his 2014 to-do list is largely practical.
Two important aspects of the speech stood out.
While he glanced over such hot-button issues as climate change, immigration reform and gun control, President Obama took ownership of the Affordable Care Act and focused on income inequality, although he never used the phrase.
Ownership of the Affordable Care Act was a substantial move.
Speaker John Boehner remained mostly resolved throughout the hour-plus speech, but couldn’t help but smirk when the president stated, “We’re in the process of fixing that,” subtly referring to his administration’s botched roll-out earlier this year.
Forbes noted that the president devoted seven percent of his address to healthcare, roughly five minutes of airtime.
The problem is not for the president, whose legacy already largely hinges on the law, but for the Democratic senators in red states up for reelection in 2014.
With polls showing a narrowing gap for incumbents in Alaska, Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana and Michigan, President Obama is at risk of losing his Senate majority.
Obamacare’s unpopularity will be an important campaign issue for Republicans in 2014, and the president’s devout pride in it may eventually stall the rest of his agenda.
President Obama drew his largest applause for his calls to raise the minimum wage and continue to work towards equal pay for equal work for women.
These are reforms that are hard to dispute, and the president has his most likely legislative victories in these issues.
But it will not be easy. Republicans will continue to stress that the minimum wage is not meant to be a living wage, and they’re not completely wrong.
Further, with states like New York taking the matter into their own hands, the president simply does not have the mandate he needs for speedy action.
President Obama called for a “year of action,” seemingly offering peace to congressional Republicans who have largely thwarted his agenda.
But by stressing his intention to “use his own pen” and go above Congress’s head through executive orders, he made few new allies.
Only time will tell if President Obama can save a fading legacy in his final years in office.